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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Beauty and the Beast

One of the most popular Disney animated features, Beauty and the Beast made the transfer to the stage in 1994 with a Broadway run that is still going strong, spawning successful runs in London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Sydney and Tokyo, and a busy U.S. tour. The timeless, well known fairy tale adapted by Linda Woolverton (originally written for the screen version) is a story of two misfits. Beautiful Belle doesn't fit in because she loves to read, and the books make her yearn for more than the simple life that is accepted as the norm by the provincial residents of the town in which she lives with her eccentric inventor father. The Beast is really a handsome Prince, who was transformed into a hideous figure by a spell put on him for shunning an ugly woman who was a witch. The Beast, whose demeanor has taken on the ugliness of his exterior, takes Belle prisoner, but eventually (of course) they learn to trust each other and fall in love, which breaks the spell. There are many supporting characters, including Gaston, who is gorgeous on the outside and shallow on the inside. Though he loves himself more than he could ever love anyone else, he wants Belle for his bride since she is the most beautiful woman in town. He has the requisite Disney sidekick, Lefou, who he physically abuses in a cartoonish way. The Beast's castle is inhabited by servants who, also under the spell, are slowly changing into inanimate household objects.

Alan Menken (music) teamed with the late Howard Ashman (lyrics) to provide the songs for the film, and those tunes are all here, plus several new to the stage version with lyrics by Tim Rice. Through inventive costuming, sets, and special effects, the show retains much of the cartoon quality of the original film. Sure to delight any young fan of the Disney film, there is also some depth of humor to appeal to the kids' older escorts.

Disney productions always seem to have wonderful singers, though the singers may not retain an individual style - one Belle may sound like another, but they all sing beautifully. In the current tour, Jennifer Shrader plays Belle. Properly lovely, Shrader has a matching lovely voice. She shows Belle's independence and spunk quite well, though the overall cartoon style of the show (there is no room for nuanced acting here) doesn't leave much room for the soft side of Belle, which should be a part of her attractiveness to the Beast. As the Beast, Roger Befeler is strong in singing, and, from beneath the hairy costume and makeup, he brings out the humorous touches of the Beast's rough personae. Shining most brightly among the three leads is Marc G. Dalio as Gaston. Gaston, with an anvil chin, an Elvis pompadour, a blinding white smile, and abundant muscles, is the showiest of parts in this musical, and Dalio makes the most of every opportunity to use Gaston's smarminess and self-adulation to the delight of the audience. A terrific singer and physically perfect for the role, Dalio has mastered all of the large and small gestures which make Gaston fun to watch whenever he is on stage.

In supporting roles, Aldrin Gonzalez as Gaston's sidekick Lefou shows his athleticism as he takes every whack Gaston delivers and, with his tumbles and pratfalls, makes slapstick as funny as it can be. Each of the castle residents has a distinct personality, and are written and costumed to provide a lot of humor. The actors in these roles do their jobs adequately, but none really stand out.

There are frequent eye-blinking strobe lights and surprising popping noises which accompany special effects that show the transformation from Prince to Beast and back again, and the sets are fairly elaborate for a tour - they slide and fly in like a well-oiled machine. Choreography is designed and excuted well, particularly in the stein-clanking tavern scene. The entire show, in fact, is so well-coordinated and fast paced, that it brings comparisons to the inventive automatronic shows at Disneyworld. But it is the complete dependable package that delights the younger audience members.

Beauty and the Beast continues at the Benedum Center through March 2. Visit BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com for ticketing information and DisneyonBroadway.com for more information on the tour.


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


-- Ann Miner

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